How do I reduce my injury risk for the tennis season?
With the weather warming up and Spring arriving, comes the start of the outdoor tennis season. Many players return to tennis after the winter off and often pick up injuries on their return. Tennis players are susceptible to overuse injuries resulting from repetitive practice, and are more at risk if they’ve had some time off from the game.
Overuse injuries are common in the shoulder, elbow or wrist and include rotator cuff related pain and tennis elbow. Here is some simple information about how to avoid and manage these common issues and generally how to reduce your risk of injury when playing tennis.
Rotator cuff related pain:
This is where, often in the dominant shoulder, the rotator cuff tendons become irritated by repetitive, overhead movements such as serving and smashing. Poor stability and control of the muscles around the shoulder blade, reduced rotator cuff endurance and altered technique can contribute to this. Reduced mobility in the upper back can also cause extra strain through the shoulder when hitting the ball overhead.
Treatment would most often include a thorough assessment of the shoulder and upper back followed by an individualised strengthening programme focusing on shoulder blade muscle control and rotator cuff endurance. Shoulder mobilisations and soft tissue techniques can complement the exercise programme. A review of tennis technique by a specialist tennis physiotherapist can also be helpful to ensure to optimise biomechanics.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, refers to pain on the outside of the elbow at the attachment of the forearm muscles. It is an irritation of the tendons of the muscles which extend the wrist. It is often painful when gripping the racket or moving the wrist. Tennis elbow can be caused by repetitive tennis, a change in racket, grip size or string tension or when technical changes are made. It is important that it is treated to prevent it becoming a chronic problem.
Treatment would often include offloading the tendon with braces, strapping or tape, modification of tennis training volumes, use of ice and a graded strengthening programme to target the tendon health. A specialist tennis physiotherapist can evaluate your tennis racket, string tension and grip size as well as reviewing any technical changes which have been recently made.
Top Tips for Tennis injury prevention:
A good warm up is essential to get you ready for tennis. This should include jogging, multidirectional movement drills, lunges, high knee jogging and mobility exercises for your lower and upper body. Some resistance band activation work for your gluteal muscles and shoulder muscles will help you to prepare to play.
Rotating your mid back and moving your shoulders and elbows is key prior to hitting. Shadowing groundstrokes and serves can help your body warm up and be ready to play. Start hitting in the service boxes gently and then gradually increase the pace of the ball and work your way back to the baseline.
If you have had the winter away from tennis, it is important to do some pre-tennis strengthening prior to returning to the court. This should include quadriceps, gluteals, shoulder and elbow strengthening to reduce your injury risk. Taking part in Pilates during the off season is a great way to keep the key muscles strong over the winter. Consult a specialist tennis physiotherapist for further information on a personalised tennis strengthening programme.
Wearing specialist tennis footwear which support your feet during sideways movement is important to reduce your risk of ankle sprains on the court. It is also important to consider wearing the right shoe for the surface you are playing on – the demands on a clay court are very different to the demands placed on the body when playing on a grass court.
To ensure an injury free tennis season, start slowly and gradually increase your playing volumes. Consult a qualified tennis coach for any technique changes and consider a pre-season musculoskeletal tennis screening by a specialist tennis physiotherapist.
And most of all, enjoy your tennis!